June 30, 1992 to July 1, 1995
Adult Education Act, P.L. 100-297 as Amended by the
National Literacy Act, P.L. 102-73

Submitted by:

California Department of Education
Specialized Programs Branch
Youth, Adult and Alternative Educational Services Division
Adult Education Unit


Chapter 4d



This section will summarize findings concerning the success of California's adult education providers in terms of coordination, level of service compared to need, and quality and results of services.


Although there have been efforts among providers to coordinate efforts, the adult education consumer can easily become confused by California's array of programs. There are thousands of courses from which to choose and little consistency in the content of programs with the same or similar course titles. There is also a confusing array of providers, each with their own eligibility and funding requirements. In the area of literacy alone, there are over 1,200 agencies other than public schools that are involved in providing literacy service to adults. These are listed in the California Directory of Adult Literacy Services, 1990-1991. 36

Coordination is the result of federal mandates to involve interested parties in planning. Coordination occurs at the State level. In fact, coordination is improving among such agencies as the Chancellor's Office of the California Community Colleges, the State Job Training Coordinating Council, the California State Library, and the California Department of Education. The federal Adult Education Act requires outreach to impacted groups and review by various state boards and commissions. The Job Training Partnership Act requires interagency and multi-sector representation on a state coordinating body and local Private Industry Councils. The Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act requires both state and local advisory councils with representation from several sectors.

Level of Service Compared to Need

SRA Associates determined that in 1985-86, almost 1,100 literacy service providers served about 880,000 adults, including individuals receiving literacy training and those seeking a high school diploma or GED certificate. Three-fourths of the functionally illiterate enrollees were served by adult schools, 21 percent by community colleges and the remainder by libraries and community organizations.37

The number of adults receiving literacy training is estimated to have grown to 657,000 in 1987, reflecting the 10 percent growth in these programs from the previous year in adult schools and community colleges. In 1986-87, then, some 657,000 Californians over 14 years old, out of a statewide total of 3,075,000 or 21 percent, were served by adult literacy programs.38 In this case, functional illiteracy was defined as having significant performance deficits on the NOMOS competency tests in five life skill areas.39

California public school adult education provides instruction in broad program areas which allow considerable flexibility in the types of courses offered. Over half of the instruction is literacy-related, and growth in the system in recent years has been due mostly to the influx of Hispanics into English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) courses. Although supplementary funding (through new immigration reform legislation) has helped meet the demand for ESL, it has not been sufficient to prevent competition for resources among groups which enroll in other program areas.

California's newest literacy program is the provision of services to the homeless. One percent of the federal grant under the 1985-1988 Federal Plan is used for this purpose. Literacy and basic skills remediation occurs in multiple service settings that meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and child care. The programs are intended to help homeless adults become self-sufficient.

Quality and Results of Services

One effect of the demand for adult education increasing faster than the funding is that the delivery system has become more productive. More attendance (ADA) is being generated per inflation-adjusted dollar spent (See Exhibits 4 and 5).40 In the absence of meaningful program effectiveness data, however, it cannot be determined whether the generation of more quantity is being achieved at the expense of quality.

Effectiveness data from the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) are available for some ESL and basic skills (ABE) programs that are supplemented with federal funds. These data show that among the 2-5 percent of literacy students who took both the pre- and post-tests in life skills between 1985-1988, ESL students gain between 6.1 and 7.3 CASAS scale points per year, while ABE students gain on the average between 5.7 and 7.0 points per year.41 Productivity, as expressed by learning demonstrated per dollar spent (i.e., CASAS scale points per unit of cost), has remained fairly constant, although it has been somewhat higher for ESL than ABE students.42

Caution, however should be used in interpreting these data because the population sampled may not be representative of the group which takes these courses. This is because (1) half the students leave the program before taking the post-test (leavers may have different learning rates than completers of both tests), and (2) the quality and consistency of test administration procedures varies widely from site to site.43

In sum, quality is difficult to assess because of inadequate, although improving, assessment of programs and performance. Although achievement measures exist, performance is difficult to assess in the absence of routine testing with representative samples.


There is also uneven geographic accessibility of adult education across the State. Several counties have no adult education provided through school districts, and the majority of counties have less adult education funding than their share of the State population. Population, however, is a very crude measure of need; other factors which might be considered in distributing funds are income, education, employment status and level of English proficiency.

View to the Future

California adult education has been responsive to change. The system has helped the State respond to waves of immigration, war, and economic change. It has continually helped the less educated obtain skills to pursue jobs and a higher quality of life. And over the last eight years, California has helped to improve the quality of adult basic education nationally -- programs and materials developed by contractors of the California Department of Education have been disseminated nationally and adopted by a few states outside of California. Yet despite these successes concerns about tax relief have reduced public funding for adult education by almost one-third (in constant dollars) since 1978.

Unfortunately, the system currently in place, though responsive to current needs, is unlikely to meet the demands of coming decades, particularly in an era of constrained financial resources. The very same groups traditionally served by adult education--the lesser educated, low income, limited English proficient, immigrant, substantially handicapped, older adult, and prison populations--are all growing faster than the general population and will demand many services in addition to education.

In such a milieu, adult education, like any public service, needs more quality and performance for the dollar. The number of new dollars in the system are unlikely to increase substantially. Funding increases, in turn, are likely to be increasingly contingent on performance.

One development that will help meet the challenges of our times is technological innovation. Technologies available today and forthcoming within the next decade will provide enormous opportunities for adult education and its participants. By the year 2000, we can expect commonplace desk-top computers with the power and speed of mainframes, and rapid gains in the areas of inter-linking information systems. Developments in artificial intelligence will permit cost-effective and sophisticated applications. These applications will be reliable and efficient and will focus on specific problems and areas of interest for both students and teachers. Rapidly emerging computing power and interface equipment will permit efficient and "user friendly" testing procedures which will appear customized to the student; but which retain high levels of objectivity, reliability and comparability among programs. In short, the technologies of the future will make it possible to provide adult education any time and at any place, and then to provide cost-effective means to ensure accountability, both to the student and to the public.

Adult educators within California have perhaps their greatest opportunity in this half century to develop a system that is proactive, not only responsive. The groups that they serve most are the fastest growing; state legislation for adult education is about to be reauthorized; and a plan is about to be submitted for how to spend funds from the federal Adult Education Act. The time has arrived to find new ways to help California adult education become more accessible, accountable, effective and efficient. Available resources, new technologies and pressing needs point us toward new approaches for adult education.

36 Gerald Kilbert, State Director of Adult Education, Testimony for Joint Committee on the State's Economy and State Senate Select Committee on Small Business Enterprise, Sacramento, March 10, 1989 (prepared by California Department of Education, Youth, Adult and Alternative Educational Services Division.

37 Donald Dixon, et. al., op. cit., pages 39-41.

38 See Exhibit 5, for projections of the number expected to have performance deficiencies. It should be noted that this projection probably understates the number of illiterates because of California's extremely high proportion of immigrants and undocumented persons. Also, the number served does not necessarily represent the number who become literate since no representative student achievement data exist.

39 The five competency areas were cultural, economic, health and safety, interpersonal and political-social. An individual was determined to have a performance deficit if their scores on both the individual and composit measures were more than one standard deviation unit below the mean for the entire population on that measure. (See Donald Dixon, et. al., op. cit. pages 23-33.)

40 Adult school ADA was 15 percent less in 1988 that it was in 1978, whereas adult school (inflation-adjusted) expenditures are 28 percent smaller than a decade ago. See Barry Stern, The California Adult Education System: Background Paper on the Response of Adult Education Institutions to the Needs of Californians, Sacramento, Pacific Management and Research Associates, February 1989, prepared for the State Department of Education, Exhibit 6)

41 CASAS achievement data from Progress Report 1987-88, unpublished paper, San Diego, CASAS, October 24, 1988, page 44.

42 Barry Stern, op. cit., Exhibit 36, page 62.

43 In 1987-88, some 8,303 ESL and ABE students completed both the CASAS pre- and post-tests in life skills; overall some 18,361 students in 1,312 classrooms completed CASAS pre- and post-tests. Some of these students took the life skills test, while others took the listening and computation tests. A significant number of students were adminstered the wrong test for the ability level and hence scored either too high or too low for their scores in the analysis.


***** Continued on "Ch.05 GOAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS" *****